Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Game of Thrones (Season 8)

Game of Thrones (Season 8); fantasy series, USA, 2019; D: David Nutter, Miguel Sapochnik, David Benioff, D. B. Weiss, S: Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Maisie Williams, Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Jacob Anderson, Sophie Turner, Liam Cunningham, Nathalie Emmanuel, Alfie Allen, Conleth Hill, Rory McCann, Iain Glen

In the North, the unlikely human coalition sticks together to fight the invasion of the Zombie "White Walkers" led by the Night King. The Zombies start the siege of the castle, killing numerous soldiers, and even use one of Daenerys' dragons, now also a Zombie, for the assault. However, just as the Night King approaches Bran, Arya assassinates the former with the Valyrian dagger, and thus the entire "White Walkers" army disintegrates. Daenerys then re-directs her army south to attack Queen Cersei. With her dragon, Daenerys burns and destroys the entire city of King's Landing, killing also every civilian in it. Disgusted by such insanity, Jon Snow kills Daenerys. In the aftermath, Tyrion suggests Bran as the new King, which is accepted by the six kingdoms, except the North, where Sansa declares independence. Jon is banished to live in the North.

The final season of the highly popular nihilistic fantasy series "Game of Thrones" ended not on a high note, but on a highly polarizing effect. The characters are all still here, but their personalities seem to have been lost somewhere in the previous season: congruently, it seems their random, contradictory actions and choices in the story are coming from some pre-designed plot points set up by the writers, and not from a natural unraveling of motivations of their personalities. The first two episodes are talkative and quiet, establishing a good mood of anticipation before the ferocious battle against the Zombie "White Walkers" in episode 8.3, which was done very well. This is then followed by episode 8.5, which is half-excellent, and half-detrimental. Its excellent half shows the battle for King's Landing with a lot of grandeur, style and 'raw' power, featuring epic scenes, which is all very cinematic (the dragon landing on Dubrovnik's landmarks; the Biblical fight between the Hound and Gregor on the stairs...). Its detrimental other half, however, is apparent. For one, Daenerys flies on a dragon to attack the port city, but she defeats the fleet defences way too easy. Considering that the fleet actually killed one of her dragons in the previous episode, 8.4, with a crossbow, one would have expected from her to concoct some sort of a strategy this time around—for instance, maybe to use her dragon to throw giant stones on the fleet from the sky, breaking holes in their ships and thus causing them to sink.

Another major controversy was the switch of her character: Daenerys orders the dragon to raze the entire city to the ground with its fire. Yes, sacking of cities was unfortunately common during the Middle ages, and war crimes or destruction against civilians on a massive scale are even in modern times perpetrated by dictators, for instance in Grozny or Aleppo. However, you don't establish one character to be good for 71 episodes, only to make her suddenly evil in just one episode before the end of the show. It is an undeserved twist. The twist involving Ned Stark at the end of Season 1 was also unexpected and shocking, but consistent, since the Lannisters were established as selfish and treacherous right from the start. It seems Daenerys was arbitrarily made the villain just to be liquidated in the last episode, 8.6, which is the weakest episode of the entire series. This final episode is a joke. For a story that built up such a high impression (at times), such a low, bland, schematic ending is a disappointment. The ending has no point, whereas its resolution is not earned. It is an anticlimax. Jon Snow ending as some sort of a watcher of a ski resort in the North and Arya turning into Christopher Columbus could not please anybody. It simply offers no satisfaction to this vast storyline. Maybe the original author George R.R. Martin is himself guilty for piling up a hundred characters and so many subplots that they simply could not be tied up in a neat bow at the end, but they could have offered at least some explanations of the mystical, especially regarding the origin of the Night King, Quaithe, the Lord of Light, the Three-Eyed Raven... This way, Bran's whole existence in the story has no point, even though it was announced that his visions would be essential. It seems the story itself is surprised at how the characters switch and change in certain episodes.

Grade:++

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Ordinary People

Ordinary People; drama, USA, 1980; D: Robert Redford, S: Timothy Hutton, Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch, Elizabeth McGovern, M. Emmet Walsh, Dinah Manoff

A seemingly normal suburban family is hiding a troubling guilt problem: Calvin and Beth, husband and wife, try to live on after their teenage son Buck drowned in a sailing accident during the storm, but his surviving brother, Conrad, is plagued by bad conscience because he couldn't save Buck, and hanged on to the boat instead of swimming to rescue him. In high school, Conrad quits the swimming team, but starts dating Jeannine and seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Berger. After Conrad finally speaks up about his guilt to Dr. Berger, and how his mother is cold towards him, Calvin and Beth separate on Christmas.

Roberd Redford's feature length debut film as a director is a competent, highly delicate and quiet little family drama, but, as its title already indicates, it is a tad too ordinary. During its premiere, it was heaped on with numerous awards and prizes, some of even for best film, and while some predicted that it would become a classic, with time this didn't happen: it is a good film, yet rarely goes beyond that—its extraordinary rarely surpasses the ordinary. The story about a teenager who has bad conscience because he survived a fatal boat accident, while his brother didn't, offers for a meditative psychological essay, yet not enough to truly carry or justify its running time of over 120 minutes. Some dramatic situations turned out melodramatic and overdone—for instance, in one sequence, Conrad announces how he quit the swimming team in front of his parents, and his mother, Beth, makes a huge drama out of it, as if it was some sort of a big deal. What for, though? Strangely enough, the movie seems to have missed the opportunity to use that plot point as Conrad's hydrophobia for some dark twist in the swimming pool, which never manifests.

Several other moments also seem somewhat awkward, such as the scene where Conrad gives a tragic description of his state, of how it feels like "falling into a hole", in front of Jeannine, only for this to be interrupted when some teenagers storm the diner and cheerfully parade around, causing Jeannine to laugh; or the moment where Beth and Calvin are going back and forth over who will make a photo for the album, only for Conrad to finally snap and shout: "Just give her the God-damn photo, already!" A little more finesse, ingenuity and creativity in dialogues would have been welcomed. If there is one thing that Redford knows how to do as a director, it is the way he manages to get the maximum from his cast, who all delivered emotional, strong performances. Timothy Hutton is brilliant as the teenage Conrad, suffering from anxiety, unable to move on from the emotional burden that was set on him, yet Donald Sutherland is also very underrated in his subtle performance as the father, who tries to understand and mend the problems in his family after the accident. One of the best sequences in "Ordinary People" is when Beth wakes up in the middle of the night and spots that her husband isn't in bed with her. She walks in the house and spots Calvin sitting in the living room, just crying, "in private". One of the most subtle details is that Beth actually loved the deceased child more than Conrad, which makes for a slow-burning mother-son conflict. The opening sequence featuring Canon in D major Composed by Johann Pachelbel in a choir is also an example of wonderful music. A good, honest depiction of inner problems that the past can leave.

Grade:++

Sunday, May 12, 2019

After

After; romance, USA, 2019; D: Jenny Gage, S: Josephine Langford, Hero Fiennes-Tiffin, Shane Paul McGhie, Pia Mia, Khadijha Red Thunder, Selma Blair, Inanna Sarkis, Dylan Arnold, Samuel Larsen, Jennifer Beals, Peter Gallagher

Tessa (19) has just moved into College, leaving her high school boyfriend, Noah, to wait in her hometown. She shares a room with Steph. Tessa refuses to kiss Hardin, a dashing guy, in a "truth or dare" game during a party. He invites her for a drive to a lake and she accepts, where they swim together. Slowly, she falls in love with him and they kiss, causing a break-up with Noah. When her mother threatens her to quit Hardin and study or she will cut off her money, Tessa refuses. She moves together with Hardin and loses her virginity. However, she finds out from Molly that Hardin just started a relationship as a bet. Even though Hardin admits he fell in love with her, Tessa rejects him. However, the two meet again at the lake.

An adaptation of Anna Todd's eponymous novel, this romance film is appropriately emotional, uncynical and honest, yet not that much inspired. Too much of its storyline seems like an ordinary teenage love story found a dime a dozen, just combined with the concept of that all-time classic "Dangerous Liaisons", to go somewhere new and do something fresh. The best parts are found in the first act, where the two main protagonists, Tessa and Hardin, show some moments of charming character development, as in the amusing sequence in the classroom where they are angrily debating over whether Elizabeth was in love with Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice" or not. More of such moments would have been welcomed, since a fair share of scenes seem too melodramatic or sappy at times, with some questionable choices (would Tessa really allow for Hardin, a stranger to her, to drive her in his car in the middle of the woods?). It is interesting that the director Jenny Gage breaks with the "male gaze" tradition and instead focuses her camera shots into "female gaze" since she lingers more on the male body of her protagonist during love moments, than on the girl. While thin and overstretched at times, there is one beautiful moment of poetic romance: it is the one where the couple is in a bathtub, and Hardin is "typing" letters on her back with his finger, daring her to try to "decipher" what he wrote, and in one moment writes "I L-O-V-E Y-O-U" on her back.

Grade:++

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Werckmeister Harmonies

Werckmeister Harmonies; drama / mystery, Hungary, 2000; D: Béla Tarr, S: Lars Rudolph, Peter Fitz, Hanna Schygulla, János Derzsi

An isolated city during autumn. Janos is a young lad delivering newspapers. He lives in a house with György, an older intellectual who contemplates about the disharmony of the musical scale defined by Andreas Werckmeister. One night, a circus shows up on the street, consisting just out of one truck charging people to see a stranded whale inside, and a performer known as the "Prince". Rumors of crimes start spreading. György's ex-wife, Tünde, shows up, threatening him to accept the task of enlisting dozens of people for "clean up the town movement" or else she will move back with him. György reluctantly accepts. Janos sneaks into the truck and overhears how the circus master cannot control the "Prince", a Slavic foreigner, who wants to be a revolutionary. The masses accept the "Prince's" cult and start a mob that attacks a hospital. They are dispersed and Janos is wrongfully arrested, sent to an asylum. György observes the abandoned truck with the corpse of the whale.

While a lot more concise and "reasonably long" than his excessive 7-hour "Satantango", this film once again confirms the director Bela Tarr's frustrating filmmaking: great composition of long takes, but too cryptic and 'autistic' assembly which is difficult to decipher, which in turn aggravates the viewers' attempt to understand what is going on. Tarr crafts "Werckmeister Harmonies" as a surreal allegory, consisting just out of some 40 takes, but he has difficulty to align them into a coherent narrative. Consequently, these scenes work when isolated, but not that much together as a film. The opening 10-minute scene at the tavern is great, showing how Janos persuades three men to play the Sun, the Earth and the Moon in orbit, with the former standing still, and the latter walking around him, in a comical moment à la Three Stooges. The plot tangle, where a mini-circus shows up in the city during night, after which bad things start happening, reminds of "Sailor Moon SuperS", painting a metaphor: the circus truck charges people to see a whale outside a tank (!), on dry, thus already implying how people are attracted to something impossible, something contradictory, in this case the "Prince", a figure in the shadows, who appears only once in the film, and on top of that off-screen. The "Prince" is a symbol for any emergence of a new ideology which deludes the masses, and which inevitably turns violent in order to overthrow the current system, to take a foothold, since it cannot do it with reason. This is where the film takes off. It culminates in a brilliant sequence of masses walking on the streets, and then erupting into a riot in the hospital, which is so artificially staged it seems almost grotesquely fake, especially in the scene where one rioter is dragging a man from his bed. Unfortunately, the whole first 70 minutes could have easily been cut, since too much time is wasted on "empty walk" of Janos eating or walking, when the whole film could have as well started from this scene of Janos overhearing the "Prince" trying to dominate the society.

Grade:++ 

Friday, May 3, 2019

Pharaoh

Faraon; drama, Poland / Uzbekistan, 1966; D: Jerzy Kawalerowicz, S: Jerzy Zelnik, Piotr Pawłowski,  Emir Buczacki, Krystyna Mikołajewska, Wiesława Mazurkiewicz, Leszek Herdegen

Ancient Egypt, 1100 BC. Two scarabs walk strangely in the sand, and the high priests interpret this as a divine sign that the Egyptian army should walk around an area. Consequently, they have to bury a canal to cross over it, causing a farmer to commit suicide. Prince Ramses XIII, who led the military exercise, is annoyed by the priests, led by Herhor, who control the country too much, even influencing and advising Ramses' father, the Pharaoh. Ramses wants to attack the Assyrians to get more money for Egypt's failing economy, but the priests press for a peace agreement. Dagon, a Phoenician merchant, designs a plan to persuade Ramses to attack the Assyrians, employing Phoenician Kama who becomes Ramses' mistress, replacing his wife, Sara, a Jew. When his father dies, Ramses becomes the new Pharaoh and plans to get rid of the priests. He incites people to attack their temple, containing the labyrinth with gold, but the priests use a Sun eclipse to feign the intervention of the gods, thereby dispersing the rebellion. Ramses is killed by his double, Lykon.

One of the most untypical movies from the Polish cinema, both by its scale and setting, Jerzy Kawalerowicz's "Pharaoh" is a set up almost as some sort of a lesson towards American monumental epics, since it is an intimate essay on politology and the struggle for power, much closer to Machiavelli's "The Prince" or the animosity between the High Sparrow and Cersei in "Game of Thrones" than "The Ten Commandments". Kawalerowicz also has an aesthetic visual style which helps him stand out sharply from the stiff shot compositions of the above mentioned monumental epics: the film starts off with a long camera drive as it follows a priest running through hundreds of Egyptian soldiers standing in a line in the desert, from his front. The fact that he insists that the entire military should walk around a whole area because of the movement of two scarabs, already neatly sums up the motivation of the protagonist, Ramses XIII, considers them a superstitious 'parasite' caste that almost has more power than the Pharaoh himself.

Other great visual moments include a tracking shot of soldiers walking up and down across sand dunes as they approach their enemies from afar, while dozens of them fall when hit by spears, in the end even switching to a POV shot of a soldier who is hit, when the entire screen is filled with red blood. In another creative set piece, a line of thousands people march across the horizon, over the dune, but constantly stop to kneel down, almost as a set of dominoes. The tricks, ploys and intrigues with which Ramses and the priests try to outsmart each other are fascinating, albeit a little dry and dialogue driven, and one never knows who will prevail, especially when there is also a third party, the Phoenician merchants, who want to weaken them both. The highlight is probably the storming of the temple, incited by Ramses: upon hearing of the plan, the high priest actually encourages the rioting people to attack as soon as possible. One soon finds out why: the priests have knowledge of astronomy, and thus use a Sun eclipse to scare off the ignorant masses by claiming it is a divine punishment. "Pharaoh" is a dark allegory on the reign of autocracy, where the only way of reform or change is through bloodshed and violence, and an essay on atavistic class trying to cling on to power, assembling an overlong, but clever little exotic film with great details, unknown to the most of moviegoers. Krystyna Mikołajewska is excellent as Ramses' "forbidden" Jewish mistress, Sara.

Grade:+++

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Step Brothers

Step Brothers; comedy, USA, 2008; D: Adam McKay, S: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn

The unemployed Brennan (39) lives with his single mother, Nancy. In another part of the city, the unemployed Dale (40) lives with his single father, Dr. Robert. When Nancy and Robert meet, they fall in love and move in the same house. Consequently, now as one family, Dale now has to share his home with Brennan. At first they argue, but then join forces since they both hate Brennan's successful brother, Derek. Moreover, Derek's wife Alice starts an affair with Dale. Robert and Nancy plan to cruise the world with their yacht, but once Dale and Brennan accidentally wreck it while trying to make a music video, the couple files for divorce. Brennan and Dale find stale jobs and help Robert and Nancy make up. Robert then persuades them to open up a karaoke bar.

When watching some of director Adam McKay's earlier comedies, such as "Step Brothers", one realizes the creative quantum leap he made later on with "The Big Short" and "Vice". "Step Brothers" is the darnedest thing: it is so funny, and yet so stupid and primitive. The movie is wrecked with typical "bad comedy" cliches, since its vulgar, misguided ideas kill it (farting; licking of dog feces; Brennan unzips his pants to play the drums with his testicles; throwing up...), as if the authors had no self-confidence that their concept would hold the viewers' attention on its own merit. Will Ferrell's juvenile performance already signalled his dated comic skills, but he hasn't got much to work with. The movie is utterly demented, obnoxious and batty, but precisely because of that tone it is almost guaranteed that the viewers will sooner or later burst into laughter from all these deranged combinations: in one of the most howlingly funny sequences, Brennan shouts at Dale's father up the stairs: "...you sit down and you write Dale and Brennan a check for $10,000. Or I'm gonna shove one of those fake hearing devices so far up your ass... you can hear the sound of your small intestine as it produces shit!" And then Dale's angry father descends down the stairs and beats him up. In another hilarious moment, Brennan and Dale are sleeping in the same bedroom, and then Dale starts a conversations while whispering ("Hey, you awake?" - "... Yeah". - "I just want you to know I hate you." - "Well that's fine. Cause guess what? I hate you too. And this house sucks ass." - "Well the only reason you're living here, is because me and my dad decided that your mom was really hot, and maybe we should just both bang her, and we'll put up with the retard in the meantime"). There are some isolated moments of genuine laughs, but they are wrapped up in a very narrow, juvenile film. There is a difference between the comedies of B. Keaton, Chaplin, B. Murray and "Step Brothers". The former appealed towards the highest in humanity. The latter appealed towards the lowest in humanity.

Grade:+

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame; fantasy action, USA, 2019; D: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, S: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Brolin, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd, Karen Gillan, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper (voice), Brie Larson, Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Pom Klementieff, Idris Elba, Gwyneth Paltrow, Dave Bautista, Tilda Swinton 

Weeks after Thanos used the Infinity Stones to disintegrate half of all intelligent life across the Universe, the world is in disarray. Hawkeye lost his entire family, while Iron-Man / Tony Stark—who was saved by Captain Marvel in space—is furious at Captain America for not listening to him. The surviving Avengers find Thanos on a distant planet, but he destroyed the Stones. Thor then kills him. When Ant-Man returns from the quantum space, five years have passed, though he was missing for only five hours. Tony calculates that it is possible to travel back in time, as well. Using the shrinking suits, the Avengers travel years back in time to get the Stones before Thanos. Black Widow dies in the process. They get the stones, Hulk puts them on the glove and undoes Thanos' mass murder. Thanks to Nebula, Thanos and his army enter through the time portal and attack. Dr. Strange, Spider-Man and others, now revived, fight and stop Thanos' army, but Tony dies. Captain America returns back to his time.

"Avengers: Endgame" is a worthy conclusion to Marvel's Avengers, though it is still a little bit weaker than it predecessor, "Infinity War". The opening act kicks off with a surprisingly subtle and sombre sequence: Hawkeye, now retired, enjoys his free time with his family on an idyllic countryside. However, when he turns, he notices that his daughter is missing. Looking across the countryside, he realizes in shock that everybody from his family disappeared, off screen, as the effects of Thanos' mass murder dissolution strike like a whimper. The whole first act is a quiet drama, a fascinating essay on Posttraumatic stress disorder, on people trying to move on after a huge loss, almost as a huge global allegory on a post-Holodomor era where the survivors are scrambling to rebuild their world. Little details give it spark, such as when Ant-Man returns and finds a memorial cemetery in San Francisco, filled with hundreds of walls with lists of all the people who disappeared. However, considering the mass effects of such a democide, more of such details would have been welcomed. For instance, what happened to the cities round the world, or even on other planets? How did the people react when searching for the missing? Nonetheless, its first act is great, the finale is good, but the middle act is disappointing.

The middle act shoehorned the time travel concept in order to simply rollback and reverse everything, which is equally of a cheat as the ending in the original '78 "Superman". The deaths of many of the Avengers in "Infinity War" had a weight to them, it was an expressionistic finale that shocked because it showed that sometimes disappointment and loss are inevitable in life, even in superhero movies, which was monumental. "Endgame", unfortunately, nullifies all of this a bit, by presenting an "anything goes" scenario where nothing has any consequences because everything can be corrected. The time travel segment seems more like a lazy "Best of" compilation of the previous films, with numerous scenes done only for fan service, than a real effort. Several time travel plot holes are also inevitable, all corroding the impression—for instance, why not simply travel back in time and arrest Thanos while he is a kid? Or simply travel back before the final battle, and help themselves while they were fighting Thanos? Still, a few good jokes are refreshing (the sole sequence where Hulk travels to a sea port to find a resigned Thor who became fat slob from drinking too much beer is almost something from an experimental territory; three fan kids want a selfie with Hulk, but not with Ant-Man) and the finale is redeemingly emotional and sincere, showing a very energetic and almost magical conclusion of a character arc. While Tony Stark's time travel visit to his father seems overlong at first, it contains a foreshadowing hidden in one little line (when the father sadly claims that "overall good" never outweighed his own interests). Due to such a powerful ending, "Endgame" somewhat compensates for its flawed concept, offering spectacle done to the tenth of power.

Grade:++

Monday, April 22, 2019

A Room with a View

A Room with a View; romance / drama / comedy, UK, 1985; D: James Ivory, S: Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, Julian Sands, Daniel Day-Lewis, Denholm Elliott, Simon Callow, Rupert Graves, Judi Dench

Florence, 1 9 0 0s. The young Lucy Honeychurch and her uptight older cousin Charlotte are on a tourist visit, but are disappointed with the view from their pension. Upon hearing that at a meal, British Mr. Emerson and his son George persuade them to switch rooms, since the latter have a good view. The depressive George loosens up and kisses Lucy in a barley field, causing Charlotte to hastily depart with Lucy. UK. Lucy accepts an arranged marriage with Aristocrat Cecil, but starts doubting herself when George and Mr. Emerson move to a nearby house. George kisses Lucy again, but she tells him to leave. She then breaks up with Cecil and intends to take a long journey to Athens. Upon visiting Mr. Emerson, Lucy finally admits she loves George and they take a trip in Florence in spring.

Historical period dramas are a dime a dozen, but luckily, "A Room with a View" is one refreshing exception: as unexciting as its plot sounds, so much it is an excellent adaptation of E. M. Forster's eponymous novel, a wonderful little film about awakening of dormant emotions that is full of life, elegance and subtle humor that almost make it a comedy at times. It is widely considered the apex in the triumvirate careers of director James Ivory, screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and producer Ismail Merchant in one. It stays true to its literature origins, depicting the concept of human love in the British upper class, which is in a rift between the conservative, restrictive (Charlotte) and liberal, progressive (Mr. Emerson) view. The title thus becomes a symbol for the narrow or wide view on life of these two sides. Little details, dialogues, nuances and gestures manage to conjure up these characters and their relations. The young Lucy (an underrated performance by Helena Bonham Carter) wants to act polite, but slowly realizes one cannot be polite about your emotions. In the Florence dinning room sequence, George already seizes her attention when he makes a question mark out of peas on his plate.

Denholm Elliott is great as his father, Mr. Emerson. He does not have that much screen time, but each and every one of his scenes is a gem. During a sight seeing tour, he has a very honest and revealing dialogue with Lucy about the depressive George, which is a defining moment in the film: "My poor boy has brains, but he is very muddled." - "But why should he be?" - "Well of you to ask. For the way he was brought up, free from all the superstition that leads men to hate one other in the name of God." - "I must go." - "I don't require you to fall in love with my boy, but please try to help him. If anyone could stop him from brooding... And on what? The things in the Universe." It speaks about the therapeutic effects of love and passion in healing depressive people. Surprisingly, Ivory allows for some downright burlesque moments: in one of them, George, a friend and even the vicar strip naked to take a bath in a lake in the forest, but, of course, Lucy and her company just happen to be taking a walk there, spotting them. In another great little, almost metafilm moment, an oblivious Cecil reads a novel set in Florence in which the author almost identically described how George kissed Lucy in a barley field, which stimulates George to follow Lucy and kiss her again later on. Rarely do you get a chance to see a historical drama which seems as timeless (and universal) in its characters and emotions as if it plays out in modern times, all adding to its delight, which is understated, low-key and builds up slowly, yet works from every aspect later on: these characters are all so charming they cause a smile on the viewer's face.

Grade:+++

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments; silent drama, USA, 1923; D: Cecil B. DeMille, S: Rod La Rocque, Richard Dix, Leatrice Joy, Edythe Chapman, Theodore Roberts, Charles De Roche

First story: Ancient Egypt. Moses sends plagues until pharaoh Ramses concedes and allows the Hebrew slaves to walk free. But the pharaoh changes his mind and sends the Egypt army to attack the Hebrews, yet they are drowned in the Red Sea. On Mt Sinai, Moses gets the 10 commandments from God... Second story: atheist Danny and his brother, carpenter John, have a religious mother, Martha. When Danny finds a girlfriend, Mary, he leaves the house because he does not believe in the 10 commandments. Danny becomes a corrupt contractor, using too little cement to gain profit, but when his cathedral collapses, it kills his mother. Plagued by guilt, he demands pearls he gave to a prostitute. She refuses, Danny kills her and flees on a boat during a storm, crashing and dying.

Director Cecil B. DeMille is one of the few authors who themselves directed a remake better than the original, yet that was not such a difficult task to accomplish in the case of this 1923 film—"The Ten Commandments" from '56 is not a great film, yet it is easily superior to the very flawed and preachy original. For one thing, the 1923 version is kind of a cheat: only the first 40 minutes depict Moses and the Exodus story, while the remaining 80 minutes depict a modern story about atheist contractor Danny and his rejection of the 10 commandments, yet they are exhaustingly boring, didactic and strain the viewers' attention. DeMille's remake focused only on the Exodus, abandoning the modern story, which was enough by default to surpass the original, which fell deeply into the territory of Christian propaganda. The sole 1st segment is fairly interesting, with rudimentary yet fascinating special effects (parting of the Red Sea; the "reverse shots" of explosions announcing the 10 commandments on the Sinai) and a few monumental images (a queue of thousands of Hebrew people stretching across the desert dunes) which indicated DeMille's sense for the spectacle. The 2nd segment is terribly thin and overlong by comparison, a dated and blatantly obvious religious morality play—atheist Danny is predictably ruined even though the 10 commandments never mention corruption, with the melodramatic scene of his mother dying from the collapsed cathedral built by corrupt cement, whereas there is even a scene where Danny escapes on a boat named "Defiance". This disparity damages the film, but the 1st story has enough power to save it.

Grade:++

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Boyz n the Hood

Boyz n the Hood; crime drama, USA, 1991, D: John Singleton, S: Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, Tyra Ferrell, Angela Bassett

Tre Styles (10) caused trouble once again in school, defying his teacher during class, and thus his divorced mother Reva sends him to live at the house of his father, Furious, at South Central Los Angeles. Seven years later. Tre (17) is an intelligent teenager and intends to go to college, as well as his friend, Ricky, but their other friend Doughboy is a gang member. Tre is also in a relationship with Brandi. After a dispute with Ferris, a member of a rival gang, Ricky is shot from the back by Ferris in a car. Tre wants to avenge Ricky's death, but his dad persuades him to not endanger his own life. Doughboy and his friends drive in a car t night, find and shoot Ferris and his gang. Doughboy then talks to Tre and is willing to accept the consequences of his actions.

"Boyz n the Hood" was one of the more notable 'hood films' of the 90s, depicting the African-American lower class and their subculture with very bitter details, full of realism, but also in an intelligent, earnest and emotional manner. Director and screenwriter John Singleton added several auto-biographical elements, though he did not fully escape some cliches of that subgenre, including the depiction of primitivism among some characters, or a few melodramatic moments. The opening act sets up a great mood: during a class at an elementary school, the teacher explains Thanksgiving to the kids, adding that it was established by the "Pilgrims", but Tre (10) cannot resist to say a wisecrack joke and calls them "Penguins", upon which the class erupts in laughter. The teacher then invites Tre to go to the blackboard and teach the kids himself, if he knows everything. The consequences echo even at his home, when the mother, Reva, reminds Tre of their contract in which he vowed not to get into trouble at school or he will live at his father's place, even adding Tre the paper he signed himself. This half-an-hour opening act is wonderful, but the main segment, involving around a teenage Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.) somehow never repeats that high impression from the first act and lacks inspiration. The rest of the story is good, though not that outstanding. The best job was delivered by excellent Laurence Fishburne as father Furious, who becomes Tre's mentor and gives him wisdom, nurturing him away from street gangs and drugs. Furious even goes to ask Tre if he already had sex, upon which Tre tells him a ludicrous story about how he was sleeping with a girl, but had to flee when her grandmother returned home from church. Later on, however, Tre admits to a friend he is still a virgin, terrified of the idea of having a baby. The episodic story is rather conventional and its ending anticlimactic, yet it has sense in depicting a deeper theme of an individual trying to break away from the limitations of his environment, and its determinism.

Grade:++